** WARNING: MAY BE LONG WINDED **
This is yet another example of what happens when I get lazy and decide to ‘sit’ on a subject. It’s been very odd how lethargic I’ve been recently about blogging. I had a good pace going and then it’s kind of slowed down again. To be honest, I think I just need Christmas to come so that I can have a legitimate break. I’ll reflect on this year in another post though, closer to the end of the month.
Last week… I think it was last week anyway, yet another debate started up about the ‘state’ of Videogames Journalism. This article is what started it all, but what I actually saw first was this response. There were a few others as well, but I don’t have the links to hand. I actually have a lot to say about this subject, but from a detached stand-point it’s always rather amusing to see the back-and-forth stuff like this generates.
Videogames writing – whether you actually call it Journalism or not – is a very young. I think everyone can agree it’s not perfect, but to be honest it’s not as ‘broken’ as the extreme nay-sayers suggest. Personally, I think one of the main problems revolves around language, specifically accepted terms and definitions. During Sixth Form (I think that’s the latter years of ‘High School’ for the Americans), I did Philosophy and Ethics, and we learned about a philosopher called Wittgenstein. You’ll have to forgive me as I’m operating with 16-18 level educational notes, but as we were taught it, part of Wittgenstein’s many works was the concept of language games.
Language, he argued, was not a ‘uniform’ concept, but rather a series of ‘games’ (in the sense that it is a series of differing yet kind of related activities), and the games have ‘rules’. The better you understand the ‘rules’ of a particular game, the better you can ‘play’ that game. As such, when people think of ‘Journalism’, they will by and large think of the more lofty examples of the field. The Fourth Estate, Investigative Reporting, Newspapers… and the current standards and ethics – these are the definitions they know, and so they think they should apply to us too. Of course, Videogames Journalism is kind of need of a unifying standard and some ethical guidelines, but because of the subject matter the more ‘highbrow’ beliefs don’t really apply to us.
Why do we call it Videogames Journalism then? I personally think it’s a way to get some credibility for ourselves. The point I talked about regarding videogames, the job, and girls a few weeks ago can also be applied in a more general sense. There’s nothing that ‘glamorous’ about writing about videogames for a living, not to laymen anyway. We’re not uncovering Watergate here, we’re not exposing corruption (for the most part)… we just play games. But calling ourselves Journalists is a way to at least counter-balance some the prejudice we get because of that (although granted, being a ‘Journalist’ and doing ‘Journalism’ are actually two very different things).
That’s not to say it doesn’t apply though, but again it depends on the definitions you use. At its core, we are critics, reviewers… we test products out and give a verdict on it. As far as I know, that’s been widely considered a sub-branch of Journalism for decades. On a personal level, I only call myself a Journalist because I did my national qualifications, but if I was talking purely in terms of what I do, I’d say I was a reviewer… maybe a reporter when it games to videogames news… a writer sometimes. Every individual in this industry will have different opinions on what they call themselves (and indeed, some side step the ‘we’re shit journalists’ debate by not calling themselves journalists at all) but it’s all more or less valid.
Internet Journalism, especially in the videogames industry, is a very strange beast. There’s usually a small handful of sites that do most of the leg work, and then there’s everyone else, us included, who mainly rinse and repeat what’s been said. It’s not the greatest thing in the world, but ‘proper’ internet journalism, from my point of view, requires two things: the manpower and resources to allow someone to be devoted solely to the acquisition of news, and also the connections. These are not easy things to get.
The internet, as free and wild and generally awesome as it is, is also very controlled when it wants’ to be. There’s no ‘beat’ for the budding journalist to patrol, no offices or physical institutions that they can roll up to and snoop around (well, there is, but they’re not all within easy reach, and besides you’d still have to get past security and all that). Everything is at a remove, and everything worthwhile is guarded. You send an email to someone, ring them up, and the reply is going to be carefully considered or not given at all. Leaks are rarely found by going out and searching – connections you build send stuff to you.
There are ways around this of course… most sites beyond those generally considered ‘top-tier’ (in terms of traffic and ‘presence’, not necessarily in terms of quality although one does help achieve the other) get a chance to do interviews, even talk to people on the phone. News that’s not controlled, and not the direct result of a bona-fide leak, will often arise from interview transcripts. That aside though, it’s very hard for an institution to adhere to the more traditional ‘practices’ of journalism.
As you can see this is a huge subject… and I haven’t even touched on some of the bad stuff where things like advertising get in the way, plagiarism, I only really touched on the control and flow of information. Don’t get me wrong, there are problems here… but by and large, I think we’re doing ok.
Sorry that this is very long winded… I didn’t eveb address the original point of the post, which was how generally poorly made the first article was. You should follow someone like GJAIF. If you can get past the deliberately offensive name, he can be quite funny and some of his critique is right on the ball and quite illuminating. I’m getting rather bored of this slating of Kotaku though. Granted, they bring it on themselves by some of the ‘We’re a games website’ branding that lingers about the site, but I think even a monkey knows they’re more of a geek culture blog now. I do agree though that Bashcraft’s odd fixation with Japanese women is, well, odd. Sexism and the portrayal of women within the industry is a subject for another time though.
Incidentally, I wrote my final year Dissertation on this subject – Journalism Ethics in the Specialist Press: An Analysis of Videogames Journalism, it was called. I could post up some excerpts if people want?
Until next time.